Shane Stapleton looks back on Sunday's game in Thurles
Immediately, the talk has been about Corkness, that it's back. The attitude, the flair, the speed, the stick work. Yes it was, but, more tellingly, was this a return to Tippness?
Those steps forward one year followed by backtracking the next. You know those old failings: a lack of ball-winners, complacency, and other such chestnuts.
You find the space and I'll find you: that's how good hurling operates. That's how Tipp operate when allowed to, but Cork threw a spanner in the works. Death by a thousand spanners, in fact. Tipp panicked and made the wrong decisions when the game was on the line. It wasn't a disastrous performance but it was stained with historical failures.
Yet it’s as easy as it is lazy to blame this solely on the half-forwards. The issues started further back the field, with the service up to them. But because of the shuttle-running of the Cork forwards, the Tipp backs had been worn down and it’s tough to think clearly.
When you’re in the middle of action, gasping for air, your legs weakening and your chest tightening, you can be forgiven for thoughtlessness. Sometimes you just lash the ball down the field because your brain can’t conceive of anything other than an instant relief of responsibility. Hence why Tipp backs often hit aimless ball into the clouds that were manna to the Cork backs, as they had been previously against Galway.
What can’t be understood is why Darren Gleeson — who certainly should’ve stopped Shane Kingston’s goal — continued to launch bomb after bomb. Sixteen times did the Portroe man go long with his restarts in the second half, and they lost 11; Cork catching six of those cleanly.
Shane Kingston of Cork celebrates scoring a goal. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan
It allowed Christopher Joyce and Mark Ellis to create a platform in the half-back line, and Mark Coleman became the Blarney stone that so many of these deliveries perished on. It does all come back to one old Tipp failing for years: heroes being made of opposition half-backs line. Joyce, Ellis and Coleman were given an opportunity to look like Tommy, JJ and Brian Hogan. That should never happen.
But it has, and it’s a recurring issue. That approach almost cost Tipperary an All-Ireland semi-final win in 2016 against the Tribesmen and it certainly contributed to Sunday’s surprise defeat. With the game in the melting pot late on, Anthony Nash pinned lovely restarts into open space for Lehane and co to profit — while Gleeson launched it into black holes.
Donal Og Cusack ensured Gleeson would win an All-Star in 2014 when praising his varied, short puckouts in the August semi-final win over the Rebels, so why this approach now? If it’s the manager’s idea, which it likely is, it’s something that must be rectified. Being predictable is not a good quality in a team.
So how is this issue solved? Quite simple, huge movement to create options that the keeper then has to find. Stephen Cluxton is as brilliant as he is only because of the opposition being dragged around and run ragged by his outfielders. At the minimum, movement will create space to hit the ball into. Gleeson went short just six times in the entire game, with half of those in injury time after which the ball was immediately bombed upfield anyway.
Stephen Cluxton's kickouts are among the most varied in Gaelic Football. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Tipp have problems all over the field just now but that’s two very saveable efforts let into the net by Gleeson in three games, including Liam Ryan’s tame shot in the league clash with Wexford. He might even have done better with Cathal Mannion’s goal in the league final too. Gleeson will know he needs to move his feet quicker, but at 36 that’s a tough task.
Of course the wider angle view shows that Tipp have been beaten by Cork who regularly hit green patches with puckouts, and Galway who went long and direct. Every which way, Mick Ryan has issues.
So let’s not be lazy and simply blame a Tipp half-forward line that still managed to score 0-12 from open play. They’ll happily admit they could’ve done more, but they still hit a lot of ball. John McGrath was quiet inside but collected 1-1, John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer set up 0-5 and clipped 0-2 (0-1 sideline), while Seamus Callanan assisted 1-1 and nailed 0-2 from play. All this with 50-50 ball coming their direction all too often.
Of course that’s also partly down to the excellent work by Cork. For every negative read above about Tipp, translate that as a positive for the Rebels. In terms of positive turnovers, the red men were 41-29 in the black, and probably should’ve won by a few points more.
This was the day when Conor Lehane discarded his milk teeth and bore fangs. He was involved in 18 of Cork's 49 scoring chances against Tipperary on Sunday - about 37%. Being on the frees implies he is the new leader of the attack, and Pat Horgan seemed to revel from open play without that burden.
Tipperary's Ronan Maher and Conor Lehane of Cork. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan
No end of bravery on the line either. Had Cork lost a nail-biter, would Kieran Kingston have been pilloried for taking off Alan Cadogan who had scored 0-3? See the reflections of Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s performance after taking off Paul Geaney against Dublin in 2016. Kingston didn’t care; he saw a tiring forward and brought on fresh legs. Luke O’Farrell and Michael Cahalane delivered 1-1 between them in a game they won by four points.
The Rebel forwards were immense, most visible in their running into space to create options. Two-thirds of the Tipp full-back line booked inside nine minutes, Barrett should’ve been cautioned too — the tone was set.
It was a fantastic spectacle too: 56 scores, 89 scoring chances, 18 players on the scoresheet. On 65:30, Michael Cahalane trotted onto the field. On 68:30, he stretched the net; just seconds beforehand, Damien Cahalane had clearly pushed Callanan in the back under a high ball, for a free that would’ve levelled the game. Fine margins, but the Leesiders were more than deserving of the win.
In the longer run, it might also suit Tipp. They look a little flat after a long league campaign, and they face into more club fixtures this weekend. Imagine having to lift yourself for a huge clash with Waterford, and possibly a Munster Final just after it, when instead you can lie in the grass for six weeks with the possibility of a handy qualifier opener on July 1.
When next Ryan meets a big side, he will hope to have Barrett on the field in the final crucial moments, Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher present throughout, and he needs to address the puckout situation. If not, they could well be someone else’s scalp.
Two wins (against Offaly and Wexford) in six competitive games demands some soul searching. Time to get back to fighting with your hearts and hurling with your heads.